Crime and thriller roundup: January 4, 2014

by Bernard Carpinter / 26 December, 2013
Bernard Carpinter’s monthly roundup of crime and thrillers.
Everyone knows emails from Nigeria are scams; everybody, that is, except retired Canadian teacher Henry Curtis. In trying to help a fictional woman in distress, he destroys his life and sends his daughter on a mission of revenge. In 419 (Head of Zeus, $29.99), Will Ferguson also covers the Nigerian end of things – the desperately poor scammers who consider themselves creative artists, the oil companies that wreck villagers’ environment and livelihood, a woman on a long lonely trek. Eye-opening and extremely well written. To explain the title: 419 is the number of the relevant article in the Nigerian criminal code.

Carin Gerhardsen is yet another very good Scandinavian (Swedish, actually) crime writer – how come there are so many? Her THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE (Penguin, $37) starts with an elderly woman coming home to find a corpse in her kitchen and continues with a series of murders of people all aged 44. Detective Conny Sjöberg sees very little of his beloved wife and five children as he works long hours seeking a connection, but one man remembers the victims vividly from his preschool. Great characters, neat plot and a chilling exposition of the effects of childhood bullying.

SYCAMORE ROAD (Hodder & Stoughton, $49.99) is John Grisham’s sequel to his first published novel, A Time to Kill. In that book, lawyer Jake Brigance saved a black man accused of murder in America’s racist south; now he has to defend a will in which a white multimillionaire leaves most of his fortune to his black housekeeper and cuts out his children. The children hire legions of expensive and unpleasant lawyers, who will make millions if they overturn the will and nothing if they don’t. A fine, complex novel that mixes legal argument with social history, acute characterisation and a little dry wit.

Like ex-lawyer John Grisham, ex-cop Michael Connelly has a somewhat cynical view of the American justice system in general and lawyers in particular. THE GODS OF GUILT (Allen & Unwin, $36.99) shows “Lincoln Lawyer” Mickey Haller feeling uneasy about some of the courtroom stunts he pulls, such as a technicality that freed a drunk driver who went on to kill two people. But for once he has to defend someone who seems innocent, a man accused of killing a prostitute Haller had liked. Now he has to find some tricks – some good tricks – to save his client. Very readable.

Liad Shoham is a number-one best-selling crime writer in Israel and LINEUP (Scribe, $37) is the first of his five novels to be translated into English. It starts with the brutal rape of a young woman who later, under pressure, picks a suspect from a line-up. As the psychologists keep telling us, such identifications are fallible, but the cops and prosecutors are determined to get a conviction. Shoham is very good at describing people’s mixed motives and their efforts to convince themselves ends justify means, and that applies to all sorts of characters in this excellent novel.

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